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By Shingirai Vambe

Harare – 40 (forty) lives have been lost during the Covid -19 lockdown period due to human wildlife conflict with cases of poaching recorded to be on the increase, the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality (ECTH) has revealed.

ECTH appeared before the parliamentary committee giving oral evidence of the impact of Covid-19 pandemic and their recovery plan strategy.

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Munesushe Munodawafa told legislators that his Ministry suffered huge losses way before Zimbabwe entered in to lockdown as the international market had already started to pull back responding to travel bans.

He told the committee that if the country was performing very well in the tourism sector they would notice growth from both local and international tourists.

“Tourism arrival into Zimbabwe increased from 1.7 million in 2012 to 2.56 million in 2018 with an average growth rate of 6% per annum over the period, while receipts grew from USD $749 million to USD $1, 386 billion”

“Due to Covid-19, the Tourism sector has not been spared with hotels losing over 10 000 room nights due to cancellation of confirmed bookings since January 2020, which is equally USD $1.5 million dollars lost,” Munodawafa said.

The tourism industry consists of four clusters, one of the clusters being the wildlife industry which was the most affected with 40 lives lost due to human-wildlife conflict and an increase in poaching.

Fulton Mangwanya, Director General the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority told the portfolio committee on ECTH that as much as wildlife complements the tourism industry, Covid-19 left them in a predicament, and the recovery path may need an extensive marketing and support strategy.

“The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority will be key to unlock in the new and diversified tourism products through partnership in the development zones in the national parks country wide” he added.

Legislators asked pertinent questions following cabinet’s decision of reviewing the Statutory Instrument on food outlets and restaurants, and some were of the view that facilities in Zimbabwe were expensive for the local people, and domestic tourism may not be successful considering inter-provincial traveling.

Honorable Labode told the committee that even after measured were being taken; some facilities had actually gone down and reduced their standards as three star or five star hotels.

Tafara Zhou also asked of how the authorities were to work on modalities concerning visitor travel history as measures in reducing transmission. However the approach on domestic tourism has been described as a thorn in the foot but better than not getting at all, yet these are the very same people who had little or no income for the past three months.

Monodawafa further highlighted that as a ministry they have already started working on the recovery plan through various means which include digital marketing as well as funding as the sector relies more heavily on information communication technologies.

Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, Chief Executive, Givemore Chidzidzi said the tourism sector lost over 95% of business since January.

After the three sectors submitted their evidence, Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe (TBCZ) came in to give their evidence on the impact and recovery plan as the private sector. Hospitality association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) president, Clive Chinwada told legislators that the hospitality industry was regarded as perishable product.

“A day lost without selling food or room is a day lost forever and the loss will never be recovered. The business council told the committee on the challenges they have faced since January, starting from tour operators and air lines withdrawing and the international market responding to Covid”.

“For the past six months we have been paying our workers’ salaries as well as rentals for our facilities and this alone has left us dwindling and limping hoping to recover in 2023. Families, communities and livelihood were left to suffer as the sector focus on food and beverage as well as conferencing which require a number of service provision” Chinwada said.

He further added that the losses that they had incurred came from rentals as the owners of most rented hotels are pensioners and failure for them to pay, the pensioners will have nothing to sustain them during the same period.

Besides it being a major contributor in the country’s gross domestic product, tourism industry is said to be one of the highest employers in Zimbabwe, on Safaris, Resorts, Hotels, Lodges, Parks and Wildlife to mention just a few.

Meanwhile the portfolio committee on Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural resettlement chairperson Justice Mayor Wadyajena reprimanded the Ministry Permanent Secretary, Dr John Bhasera for failure to appear before the committee after writing several letters to him.

The committee wanted to get oral evidence from the Ministry on their strategic plan ahead of the winter cropping season. Bhasera appeared before the committee without adequate information and ill prepared.